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The Black Laser

How To Disappear Completely

On Saturday, Juli, Jesse, and I went to see our friends perform in a musical/dance/multimedia/burlesque extravaganza called “How to Disappear Completely”. I figured it was a good time to put the 5d Mk II through the ringer a little, so I did.

Here is the set with a few random photos at the end.

You can view them in high res here: How To Disappear Completely @ Flickr

Some thoughts on the low-light capabilities of the new 5d Mk II—awesome. About half of the play was shot at ISO 1600 and the other half at ISO 3200. Those two settings are effectively unusable on my old 20D so it was with some trepidation I threw the camera in 1600 to shoot. It was just too dark and my focal length was too long and there was too much movement not to use a very high ISO. It was a grand experiment and, based on the sample shots I’ve seen from the 1d Mk III and 1ds Mk III, I was reasonably confident that it would work out in my favor.

Well, it worked out and then some. Besides some fairly minor chroma noise at 3200, I have absolutely no objections to the amount of noise coming through. What’s more is that the lighting conditions were FAR from ideal—severe pools of light and dark, wildly shifting lighting, colors like you wouldn’t believe—yet I was able to capture images at a decent enough shutter (1/30ish) at a good focal length (200mm IS) wide open (f/2.8) and still get sharp as tack photos. Are you serious? That is so fucking awesome it hurts. It absolutely does away with any complaints I had with my 20D not allowing me to take the photos I saw in my head. I don’t feel limited by my camera which is really nice.

There is one strange thing I noticed though. Early in the shoot I had the camera set to Highlight Expansion mode and I noticed on the RAWs some very strange effects, almost like the air boiling around very bright areas that were next to very dark areas. It’s pretty obvious around Brian’s arms (on the left) in this photo. You might have to look at it in full size to really see it. I will post a real full size crop when I get home to demonstrate the effect fully since I resized the images for Flickr.


It’s not really that bad, and would be easily removed in PS if I were so inclined, but it is strange nonetheless. When I turned off Highlight Expansion, I didn’t see it again. Now, it might be some weirdness because Lightroom does not yet have a proper profile or even real support for 5d Mk II raws, but it might also be an issue with the camera. When I get home tonight, I will check the original CR2 in Canon’s raw converter and let you know what I see. Only minorly annoying, and since I can’t really be sure of the cause, we’ll have to wait and see what happens when full support is available. At least it’s not like that horrid banding noise on the 20D at ISO 1600.

More to come!

The Theme of 2009

In theory, New Year’s resolutions are a good idea. It is in the realization of these resolutions where we discover that, in fact, they don’t always work out. How many New Year’s resolutions have you made in your life that you’ve never followed through on? How many people have you heard make resolutions to do whatever the hell it is they think they should be doing but then never do? If you’re like me, the answer to both questions is “A lot”. Sure, some people have success, but I’m willing to bet that the ratio of successes to failures is skewed toward the latter.

What are some of the problems with New year’s resolutions? Well, for one, they are often short sighted, setting a goal for the immediate to near future and not often considering 4 or 8 or 12 months from now. They are also generally too specific, not allowing for the person making resolutions to change their minds or to adapt to changing situations throughout the year. People and things change, so it’s stupid not to be able to adjust your goals accordingly.

A few years ago I decided to pick a theme for the upcoming year (2004, I think?) and stick with that for the whole year. The idea was that the theme should be broadly applicable with recognizable short term goals. That might sound contradictory, but hear me out. I wanted something that would provide many opportunities to express itself in easily accomplished situations, something that could apply to many things yet all fall under the same heading. Thus the idea of a “theme”, rather than a “resolution”.

Since putting this into motion, I have had a few years of success and a few years of not-success. Let’s look at some examples, shall we?

  • The Year of Trying New Things—This was my first theme and esaily the most successful. It exemplifies everything a year’s theme should be. Broadly applicable to many things (what new thing am I trying? It doesn’t matter, so long as it’s new) and provides short term goals (try it).
  • The Year of Writing—This year was moderately successful for a while but ended up being too broad. There were no goals to set except “to write”, which was enough for a while, but not strong enough for me to keep my focus.
  • The Year of Finishing Things—What? Serious? I broke both my guidelines here. Too specific and too long term. No good. Next!
  • The Year of Self-Care—Again, moderately successful since it was focused mostly on figuring out what I needed from my life, but not a great theme since it lacks clear short term goals.
  • The Year of Focus—Seriously? What the hell? Horrible.

For 2009 I am determined not repeat my past mistakes, but to really work on keeping myself occupied outside of work with personal creative work. And now that I have this blog running, I have something to keep my honest and not let myself slip into complacency as I am prone to do.

After a lot of thinking, I have decided that 2009 will be:

The Year of 5000 photos and 50 Short Stories

Right? It’s good, I think. It has short term goals (stories, photos) and is broadly applicable (stories about what? Photos of what?). It’s also enough to keep me busy throughout the whole year, but not so much that it is daunting. Originally, it was going to be The Year of 10,000 Photos after I was inspired by Bryan’s photo count on his site, which, if you have not seen, you should. But then I realized it didn’t carve out a space for the other craft which is important to me and not addressed professionally—writing. So a little bit of calculation was done to establish reasonable goals and the theme was changed.

But, you ask, what constitutes “a photo” or “a short story”? Well, I’ve thought about that too and here’s what I think.

Photo – a photo is counted when it is part of a set that was deliberately taken. I am not limited only to my selects from a given shoot, but at the same time, test shoots do not count toward the final tally.

Short story – a short story is any piece of narrative writing between 1500 and 10000 words. It can be about anything at all, but needs to fall roughly within those two limits. The upper limit is looser than the lower. 1500 words is a bare minimum, but ok since, once I get rolling, I’ll bang out 1500 to 2500 words in a sitting.

And you, Black Laser readers, will help to keep me honest! Follow my progress over the next calendar year. I will be posting every photo and every story to this site for you to enjoy. I also hope to make periodic comments on my status and how I’m feeling about my progress. Stay tuned, intrepid readers!

You can check my progress with this link: The Year of 5000 Photos and 50 Short Stories. It will link you to every post with that tag, which will be every post I make with a story or photos. Let’s do this.

In Memoriam – Butt Fuzz, “Son” (2007-2008)

Last night we laid our hamster Butt Fuzz to rest between two trees in the Grand Street Ferry Park in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

I remember the day that Juli brought Butt Fuzz home. It was a bitingly cold day in March as she rushed home with a tiny new addition to our family nestled in her arms. She called me at work to tell me that she had purchased a hamster. I asked what she was thinking of naming him. She said that she was thinking of naming him either Linus or T-bone but that she wasn’t sure what she would name him. I replied that we would have to just see when I got home what his name was going to be. As soon as I saw him and the ridiculous mud flaps of fuzz coming off his butt, I knew that he had to be christened “Butt Fuzz”. It was only appropriate. Juli let me know that she thought that was a silly name and that he should be called Linus or T-bone, but later in the night when she asked me, “What do you think Butt Fuzz is thinking right now?” I knew that the issue of his name had been settled.

My favorite memory of Butt Fuzz is the first time we ever gave him a Crispix. He was a spoiled little guy, but he was a hamster, so what does it matter if they are spoiled? Anyway, while begging for a treat we gave him a single piece of cereal. He was so overwhelmed by the sheer deliciousness of the cereal that he keeled over backwards onto his back with his little hamster legs kicking int he air. Refusing to let go his prize, he struggled to right himself for a moment but never took his little hamster hands off the piece of cereal in his mouth. We laughed and laughed and laughed.

Butt Fuzz was a kind and gentle hamster who never bit anyone and only peed on the sofa when he got nervous. When he heard me come home, he would rouse himself from his tiny pink igloo and come and dance on the edge of his little house to greet me. In all likelihood it was because he knew I’d give him a treat, but sometimes he would ignore the treat and just dance there, saying hi. Everyone who came to knew Butt Fuzz liked him. Some hamsters are mean or surly and bite, but Butt Fuzz was a jovial, silly little ball of fluff who constantly had his bedding wrapped up in his fur. He lived his life, like his father, with bed head. How could you not love that?

Juli called me yesterday to let me know that the hamster had passed away. She had placed a small piece of apple by the mouth of his igloo and would have usually disappeared as soon as you turned your head, but this little piece of apple sat untouched. Worried because Butt Fuzz had been looking pretty old and threadbare recently, she pulled the igloo up to find him laying there, still. He died as he had lived—covered in bedding, nestled in his food, his wild hair going every which way.

We took him to the park by the East River where we had buried Peach, our last hamster. It is, of course, all sorts of illegal I am sure to bury a hamster in a public park in New York City, but that did not deter us. We just made sure we kept an open eye for police cars. We found a lovely spot between two saplings where the soil was tender, and, with the trowel Juli keeps for gardening on our fire escape, I dug a little hamster coffin sized hole and placed him in. We said a few words and then covered him up, spreading dried leaves over the spot so that he blended in.

I took Juli to dinner then, and I broke hiatus in memory of our lost hamster.

Son, you were a good little hamster and a special little guy to both of us and you will be missed. I hope that wherever it is that little hamster souls go you have as many peanuts and Crispixes and corns and carrots and piece of apple as you could ever hope for in your little hamster heart. You were a happy addition to our household. There will never be another hamster quite like you, Butt Fuzz. Requiescat in pace, son.

The Metal Claw, and why I love it.

I have no doubt that many of you are familiar with the Metal Horns, the typical hand sign associated with heavy metal appreciation. I have no problem with the horns on principle. They serve to show how fucking into the music you are. When the metal gets so fucking intense that you just can’t take it anymore, the extended index and pinky fingers are excellent heatsinks for all the metal intensity built up in your frail, human form. God knows that I threw the horns more times than you could believe when I was a teenager. I love the horns. The horns are awesome.

Here are a couple of examples of the horns being used appropriately.

Ronnie James Dio - Popularly considered the inventor of the horns
Ronnie James Dio - Popularly considered the inventor of the horns
Nergal of Behemoth throwing the horns
Nergal of Behemoth throwing the horns

Nevertheless, the horns are subject to rampant abuse. Watch the MTV music awards sometime and notice how many kids in the front throw the horns for all sorts of random bullshit, none of which falls under the “metal” header. You’ll see pop stars and country music stars and assholes on American Idol throwing the horns. What the fuck? Don’t you fucking dipshits get it? The horns are not for you and your bullshit music; the horns are an expression of metal. Yet sometimes the horns aren’t sufficient. And the horns are expected, practiced. The horns, for as great as they are, leave something to be desired these days.

For this reason, I am a supporter of the Metal Claw. When the horns just can’t do it, then you must make the claw. Where the horns send metal from only two fingers, the claw sends metal from all five. That’s 150% MORE METAL.

Typically associated with Satan, though not actually so, the horns can be divisive. The claw on the other hand promotes unity across all metal genres. Here is an example of my favorite Christian as Fuck death metal band of the moment making HEAVY use of the claw. I mean, seriously, check out his Jesus t-shirt.

In contrast, we have Nergal of Behemoth, a profound believer in Darkness, making the Claw while recording.


See the difference here? In the first photo he is on stage, performing, throwing the horns to a photographer. In the second he is focusing on the task at hand in the studio, feeling the slaughter erupt in his veins. Thus the Claw is made.

You might say, “But Joe, this claw you speak of is a new phenomenon. Was not the almighty Dio throwing the horns in the early 80s?” This is a good point, but I have evidence to the contrary. Here is 1995’s “Slaughter of the Soul” by At The Gates.

Too new for you? How about some proto-Claw throwing by Bruce Dickinson? Check it at about 1:30 into the video.

And so, it is with this incredibly persuasive argument in mind that I am pleased to unveil The Official The Black Laser Seal of Approval. Check it out:

How sweet is that shit? My Photoshop skills are legendary.

In conclusion, let us agree that while the horns have their rightful place in the Metal culture, the Claw is a true and brutal expression of what metal is and should be to the true aficionado. If I ever see the Claw thrown on American Idol—I don’t watch the show, so I guess I never will, however—then we’ll have to reevaluate its stance in my heart. But really, I think it’s as likely as hearing blast beats and harmonized growls in pop music, so I feel secure in the Metal Claw’s status as niche expression of intense metal power.

A funny passage from Peter Carey’s Theft.

I am reading Theft by Peter Carey right now and I must say that I am enjoying it. I like how he bounces between two imperfect narrators to reveal aspects of the story that might not come through just one narrator’s internal filter.

Anyway, I was reading on the subway as I do, and I read something that made me laugh aloud. Here you go. A passage from the book used completely without permission.

The taxis in New York are a total nightmare. I don’t know how anybody tolerates them, and I am not complaining about the eviscerated seats, the shitty shock absorbers, the suicidal left-hand turns, but rather the common faith of all those Malaysian Sikhs, Bengali Hindus, Harlem Muslims, Lebanese Christians, Coney Island Russians, Brooklyn Jews, Buddhists, Zarathustrians—who knows what?—all of them with the rock-solid conviction that if you honk your bloody horn the sea will part before you. You can say it is not my business to comment. I am a hick, born in a butcher’s shop in Bacchus Marsh, but fuck them, really. Shut the fuck up.

Vitamin – Christmas in Paradise

I have an admission to make. I love Christmas music. There is something so sublimely cheesy about all of it that I can’t help but like. And now that December has officially sprung, I have license to play my collection of quirky Christmas music for the next month. Awesome!

Then you won’t be surprised that I thought it was a surprise and true pleasure last year when my brother Charlie recorded an album of hi favorite Christmas tunes in a way only he could. They are rather nontraditional takes on classic songs. Check them out. I think you’ll dig them. A download link for the whole record is at the bottom.

[audio:vitamin-xmas/01.mp3|artists=Vitamin|titles=God Rest All Ye Gentlemen] [audio:vitamin-xmas/02.mp3|artists=Vitamin|titles=Angels Have We Heard On High] [audio:vitamin-xmas/03.mp3|artists=Vitamin|titles=Jingle Bells] [audio:vitamin-xmas/04.mp3|artists=Vitamin|titles=Come All Ye Faithful] [audio:vitamin-xmas/05.mp3|artists=Vitamin|titles=Oh Christmas Tree] [audio:vitamin-xmas/06.mp3|artists=Vitamin|titles=Hark! The Herald Angels Sing] [audio:vitamin-xmas/07.mp3|artists=Vitamin|titles=Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas]

Download: Vitamin – Christmas in Paradise

Guess what arrived today!!

After some strange misinformation from a UPS robot and an inquiry on my part to a UPS human being, my long-awaited package has arrived. Yay!

Here are a couple of photos of the box taken with my unbelievably shitty phone’s camera. Ironic!

The Box.
The Box.
The camera on top of the box.
The camera on top of the box.

I actually have my old camera here at work with me because I need to take photos of the insides of some arcanely constructed wooden boxes filled with wires of cyclopean dimensions. But, you know what? Fuck taking pictures with the old camera! I’m using my new one.

I guess I could have taken photos of the new body with the old one, but that would not have been nearly as funny taking photos of my new hot-shit camera with my miserable camera phone.

Look for photos in the next few days!

Now, where’s my Lightroom update?

I spoke too soon.

Welllllll, all my excitement the other day about my camera showing up today was a little premature. Unfortunately, the thing that shipped was not the camera, but the paper outlining the terms of my extended warranty. Stupid banana.

However, the camera did in fact ship today via UPS. I expect it tomorrow at best, Wednesday at the long end. Living in New York is great for getting mail. Everything gets here so quickly!

I remain patiently excited. I promise to trample no one.